Permission refused for quarry extension in the AONB

Quarry Extension

On 31st October 2022, the Secretary of State’s Inspector refused Aggregate Industries UK Limited appeal against the refusal (against officer advice) by Dorset Council of permission for a “major” quarry extension at Chard Junction, Dorset. The Inspector found harm to the AONB both during operations and post-restoration including by virtue of the unnatural restoration contours and alien landform that would be created. The reason the decision is of interest is because of the approach to the calculation of the landbank in the context of NPPF177 and “exceptional circumstances” test for allowing harm to the AONB. The Appellant contended that whilst there was a theoretically adequate landbank, that included sites which had not been brought forward and that allocated sites could not meet the shortfall in supply (which would arise from the exhaustion of Chard Junction without the extension) in the short to medium term – there was an inevitable time lag before other sites could fill the gap left by the loss of Chard Junction which the Chard Junction extension could fill.  The Council claimed to have a more than adequate landbank for the specific type of gravel and that, even though some of the sites included in that landbank had not come forward for many years, there was no reason why they could not do so in response to any shortfall. Further, the market would respond to any shortfall in supply by increasing production at existing sites or bringing forward allocated extension sites. The Inspector held that:

  1. a very large permitted site which had been left unworked for many years (and in respect of which there was no evidence either way as to the intentions of the landowner) had not been abandoned and should be included in the landbank;
  2. that site was not a “false landbank” distorting the market by making it unattractive to bring forward other sites;
  3. the confidential returns from other sites to inform the LAA should be relied on to demonstrate the future anticipated supply from existing sites;
  4. in the absence of evidence the scope for an existing site to continue to extract at high levels for the period of the shortfall was accepted;
  5. in any event, if there was a shortfall, alternative means to meet that shortfall fell to be considered (given the harm to the AONB);
  6. exceptional circumstances had not therefore been demonstrated.
The decision shows the importance of full assessment of the landbank and of alternatives causing less harm to the AONB (or inferentially the Green Belt) when making an NPPF177 case. David Forsdick KC acted for Dorset Council. The decision is available here.

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